A tale as old as time that never grows old (a bit like May McFettridge’s jokes), Beauty and the Beast, more than any other story, reminds us that to find true love you have to look past someone’s appearance and see what’s in their heart, for that is where true beauty lies – a great lesson perhaps to teach our young social media enchanted generation. Panto at the Grand Opera House is always special, however this year is an astonishing 30 year anniversary for its Grande Dame of making ‘em laugh in the aisles and they haven’t let her down in terms of plenty of opportunities to shine on stage with the script, spectacular entrances – and exits (without doubt the most ambitious yet, West End eat your heart out) – and just doing what she does best – embarrassing the life out of the unlucky audience members who catch her eye – and we love it!
As Mrs Potty, May is teamed up once again this year with Paddy Jenkins who plays The Inventor and Belle’s father. The comedy duo, bounce off each other – and the set – delivering traditional panto-style pun after pun that the kids find hilarious and delivered with just enough sauce to make the parents laugh too… and then hope that the kids didn’t really get the joke. Bringing her own unique comedy magic to the show this year is BGT 2018 semi-finalist Mandy Muden as Magic Mandy. As she told the audience, “People think women can’t do magic, it’s only for men,” and she was more than happy to prove that statement wrong. When Mandy’s on stage you can’t help but smile and the entertaining tricks certainly added fun and an extra sprinkle of nutty charm to the story.
Georgia Lennon makes a convincing and delightful Belle, and can certainly get away with wearing yellow (yes you see THE dress) and I was super impressed with Danny Bayne as Flash Harry. I know you’re not supposed to like the bad guy, but he plays the part absolutely brilliantly. He’s incredibly funny and if he’s looking for somebody to love I think there were plenty of takers in the audience from the reaction he got when he lost his shirt (and a bit more).
Ben Richards as Prince Sebastian / The Beast is all the things his character is supposed to be as his emotions conflict between the anger and despair of being cursed forever, showing kindness and affection for his household, living with hope and eventually falling for his forever love Belle. If you like a few soppy love story moments they are definitely there, and would normally have my two hiding behind the programme, but astonishingly not this time.
The test of a great show for me is when I sneak a look over at my kids’ faces after about 25 minutes in, and if the six-year-old has a huge grin and is trying to stand up on his seat to see the stage, and the 12-year-old is enthralled and not searching his coat pocket to make sure his precious phone is still on hand, and Granny is spellbound, giggling, and not searching for a cough sweet in her handbag, then that my friends means it must be really good. Believe me!
When the final curtain came down (literally) there was a well-deserved standing ovation for May and cheers and applause for not only the excellent cast, but also the incredible behind-the-scenes team and orchestra. Nothing says IT’S CHRISTMASSSSS like panto at the GOH and this one has it all, fabulous cast, stunning sets, spectacular surprises and plenty of dance, music and laughter. Every year they deliver a show that makes you feel a little bit fuzzy inside and want to hug the kids for a little bit longer (while they hoke in your bag for any leftover Rolos).
Ni4kids Verdict? Beauty and the Beast would be a fairy tale ending to any family day out this festive season (matinee performances are available too) and your little monsters will go wild for it!
Beauty and the Beast is at the Grand Opera House, Belfast until Sunday 12 January 2020. For times and prices and to book visit www.goh.co.uk
Review by Nadia Duncan